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Poem: "Pulling Pigtails" - The Wordsmith's Forge — LiveJournal
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
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ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "Pulling Pigtails"
This poem is spillover from the February 4, 2014 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by a prompt from siliconshaman.  It also fills the "youth" square in my 1-31-14 card for the Origfic Bingo fest.  This poem was chosen in an audience poll to be opened for microfunding.  It belongs to the series Polychrome Heroics.

Note that when this poem is fully funded, you'll also get "Peace Offerings" posted in full at no extra charge, since that poem has already been sponsored.

This microfunded poem is being posted one verse at a time, as donations come in to cover them. The rate is $.50/line, so $5 will reveal 10 new lines, and so forth. There is a permanent donation button on my profile page, or you can contact me for other arrangements. You can also ask me about the number of lines per verse, if you want to fund a certain number of verses.
So far sponsors include: general fund

FULLY FUNDED
83 lines, Buy It Now = $41.50
Amount donated = $14
Verses posted = 7 of 19

Amount remaining to fund fully = $27.50
Amount needed to fund next verse = $1.50
Amount needed to fund the verse after that = $3


NOTE: This poem features bullying, sexual orientation issues, sexism, and characters struggling to face challenges when they don't have all the tools they need for the job at hand.  Be prepared in case those are sensitive issues for you.


Pulling Pigtails



In junior high, hormones run hot and cold,
and there is no shortage of drama.

Bully Boy is husky this year,
not the slender waif he was in gradeschool,
and now he grows even bigger
when he beats up the weaker students.

Plucky Girl is athletic and mouthy,
always ready to stick up for people
who can't stick up for themselves,
and she gets in the way all the time.

Bully Boy pulls her little black pigtails
and calls her names from the bathroom walls.
Plucky Girl kicks him in the shorts
and turns his favorite belt buckle into a frisbee.

Plucky Girl is proud of her sparkly pink uniform
with purple skirt and mask and a fairy on the front.
Bully Boy wears second-hand clothes and a garish skimask
until she takes pity on him and gives him a plain black one.

Bully Boy kidnaps Plucky Girl twenty-seven times,
because he doesn't know how else to show his interest.
Plucky Girl lets him kidnap her twenty-six times,
because she's been told that boys pick on a girl they like.


In high school, students learn more about
themselves and each other than they do
about the topics in their textbooks.

Antimatter is pale and wiry, his black hair
bleached luminous silver and dyed black again after
a failed science project to create a universe in a bottle.
Watching the other boys makes his heart speed up;
although he knows this, he tries to hide it because
he gets picked on enough already, and he's such a dork.

Stalwart Stan is naturally tan with a sculptured body,
a hard worker determined to be self-sufficient,
but who keeps losing his job for hero-related reasons.
The girls at school just won't leave him alone,
although it makes his girlfriend Angelica jealous;
he won't hurt their feelings, and he's such a boy scout.

Antimatter dresses all in white, even his hat and
the strap of the goggles that obscure his face,
but the lab coat thrown over the top is black.
Stalwart Stan wears khakis, devoid of insignia
but still resembling his scouting uniform,
topped by a safari hat and a clingy mask.

Antimatter kidnaps Angelica not because he likes her
but because he wants Stalwart Stan's attention
and doesn't know how to ask him on a real date.
Stalward Stan loves Angelica, but there's something
about this that gives him a funny flutter inside;
he doesn't want to think about it, doesn't want her to know.


With college come aspirations and barriers,
deviations around a theme.

Fortressa learns the hard way that
being good at what you do isn't good enough;
she bounces off the glass ceiling in engineering
and drops out of college in disgust.
There are other ways, and she will find them.

She is sturdy and muscular build with a plain face;
many people overlook her, but she cleans up nice.
She wears her brown hair in a short, practical cut,
her almond eyes flaring green in a long olive face.
With a history of horrible boyfriends, she swears off love.

So she builds herself an impregnable suit,
puts Hollaback on permanent display, and
goes out to smash institutions and individuals
who oppress and mistreat women.
She's not terribly careful about it.

The suit gets banged up, and Fortressa
doesn't have time to fix everything  herself,
so she puts together a Pit Group
of other mechanically inclined gals.
The men can go fuck themselves.

Socket is a trade school graduate
whom Fortressa rescues from a dead-end job,
with a short scruff of hair dyed electric blue
and storm-gray eyes flashing a warning.
Her curves draw attention from men she doesn't want.

Socket falls fast and hard for Fortressa,
but knows that she doesn't want to date anyone now.
So Socket fixes the gauntlets and orders pizza
and fixes the greaves and forwards newsclips.
She will do whatever Fortressa needs to be happier.

Sometimes the truest expression of love
is not saying "I love you" at all.

* * *

Notes:

Plucky Girl -- Carlanda Hill is a junior high student who dresses up to protect victims of bullying.  She has brown eyes and straight black hair in two pigtails.  She is a rival of Bully Boy.
Origin: Carlanda was born this way and her powers are growing in slowly.
Uniform: Sparkly pink unitard with a purple cheerleader skirt and a purple scarf mask.  An iron-on fairy is blazoned across her chest.
Qualities: Good (+2) Activist, Good (+2) Gymnast, Good (+2) Student
Poor (-2) Smart Mouth
Powers: Good (+2) Transform Objects, Average (0) Nose for Trouble, Average (0) Tough
Motivation: Stick up for people who can't stick up for themselves.

Bully Boy -- Hugo Henderson is a junior high student who tries to lift himself up by putting other people down.  His abusive father is always ragging on him to be a "real man."  Prior to gaining his powers, Hugo had the misfortune of being small, slender, and pretty rather than robust.  Now he is huskier, although he still has the pretty face and fluffy blond curls.  As Bully Boy, he intimidates and beats up other students, preferring targets much smaller and weaker than himself.  He has been reported many times, but usually manages to talk his way out of trouble.  While not technically popular, he is admired by the rough and lower-class portion of the student body.  He is a rival of Plucky Girl.
Origin: In an effort to make himself big and strong, Hugo combined a bunch of nutritional aids.  The overdose almost killed him, but he gained superpowers as a result.
Uniform: Street clothes, usually torn jeans and a t-shirt (summer) or flannel shirt (winter).  Almost everything is second-hand.  He starts out wearing a garish multicolor ski mask to hide his face, which he hates.  Later Plucky Girl takes pity on him and gives him a plain black one.
Qualities: Good (+2) Convincing People, Good (+2) Poorskillz, Good (+2) Wrestling
Poor (-2) Trailer Court Trash
Powers: Good (+2) Super-Growth, Average (0) Minions, Average (0) Regeneration
Minions: Bully Boy has 7 devoted cronies and dozens of more distant admirers among the student body.  While it is primarily the cronies who get their hands dirty helping him hurt people, the other students join in milder harassment, warn him of adults approaching, and vouch for him if questioned.
Motivation: I'll show you I'm no sissy!

Antimatter -- Lawrence Cunningham is a high school student with a keen interest in science. He has a wiry build, pale skin, and pale blue eyes. He has just a hint of beard at the end of his chin. Born with straight black hair, it turned a radiant starlit silver after the accident. He dyes it black, which leaves his hair looking dull and matted until it burns through the dye after a week or two. It currently reaches his elbows. Lawrence is gay, and self-conscious about it. He has a love-hate relationship with Stalwart Stan. Antimatter keeps kidnapping Angelica Young to get Stalwart Stan's attention.
Origin: Determined to win the science fair, Lawrence attempted to create a new universe inside a cola bottle. It blew up. The accident left him with superpowers, but no science fair entry, and everyone laughed at him. He currently deals with social frustrations and professional setbacks by making trouble.
Uniform: All white, including the hat, with a black lab coat thrown over the top; and goggles to obscure his face.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Intelligence, Good (+2) Agility, Good (+2) Captain of Chess Club
Poor (-2) Such a Dork
Powers: Expert (+4) Manipulate Physics (Signature Stunts: Greater Than Equal Reaction, Irresistible Force, Remove Friction)
Motivation: Mind over matter.

Stalwart Stan -- Stanley Wood is a high school student with a gallant personality, although some people think he's too good to be true. He has a sculptured body with light brown hair and hazel eyes. His naturally tan skin darkens further under the sun. Stan goes from one part-time job to another, because he wants to be industrious but he keeps losing his current job for hero-related reasons. Although devoted to his girlfriend Angelica Young, Stan is actually bisexual; he just doesn't know that yet. At school he rotates among several different sports. He has awkwardly mixed feelings about Antimatter.
Origin: His scouting troop went camping in the Bessey Ranger District of the Nebraska National Forest. They got lost in the woods during terrible weather, everyone afraid they might die. Stan found a weird fetish that gave him superpowers, enabling him to call for help and save the day. He earned the Honor Medal for saving lives at considerable risk to himself.
Uniform: Tan shirt and trousers reminescent of a boy scout uniform but without insignia, plus a matching safari hat with a clingy mask obscuring the top half of his face.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Such a Boy Scout, Good (+2) Athletic, Good (+2) Handsome
Poor (-2) Girls Won't Leave Him Alone
Powers: Good (+2) Invulnerability, Average (0) Communicator, Average (0) Super-Strength
Limitation: All powers require the fetish to use; Stanley wears it around his neck.
Motivation: Be prepared to help those in need.

Angelica Young -- She is a lively high school student with a cheerful, athletic bearing. She has blue eyes and bleached blond hair in a short, sassy cut. Angelica comes from a good family and can afford fashionable clothes. She is popular at school. Although she loves her boyfriend Stanley Wood (Stalwart Stan), it frustrates her that other girls keep trying to get his attention. Antimatter keeps kidnapping her, and it creeps her out.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Cheerleader, Good (+2) Social Studies, Good (+2) Video Gamer
Poor (-2) Jealous

Fortressa -- Corrigan Pierce bounced off the glass ceiling in her engineering major, and dropped out of college as a result. Her sturdy, muscular build and plain face mean that many people overlook her, but she cleans up nice. She wears her brown hair in a short, practical cut. Her eyes are green and her skin is olive. She has a history of horrible breakups with boyfriends and has sworn off love. Corrigan is a talented mechanic and super-gizmologist. She has a particular hatred of "boobplate" and "chainmail bikini" armor. She drives a jeep painted in gray camo. If she can convince people to work on a car together, they can talk through and solve almost any other problem in the process.
Origin: Corrigan's natural intelligence gradually built up, with Gizmology manifesting in high school and Super-Gizmology in college. Frustration with the sexism in her field led her to build a suit of Power-Armor and become Fortressa. Periodically she flies out to smash some college, corporation, or individual who has come to her attention due to sexist offenses. Fortressa is not terribly concerned about due process or collateral damage.
Uniform: Power-Armor, with a practical gray flightsuit under it.
Qualities: Good (+2) Battlesuit Pilot, Good (+2) Intelligence, Good (+2) Strength, Good (+2) Working on the Car Together
Poor (-2) Unlucky in Love
Powers: Expert (+4) Super-Gizmology, Average (0) Minions
Minions: The Pit Group consists of seven women, all with different skills in science and/or mechanics. Together the Pit Group can repair (but not improve) Fortressa's power-armor. Their leader, Socket, is secretly in love with Fortressa.
Expert (+4) Power-Armor: Expert Invulnerability, Good Energy Beam, Good Flight, Average Sensors, Average Tools & Supplies. It has Hollaback on permanent scroll in the heads-up display.
Motivation: No one breaches my walls.

Socket -- She is a high school graduate with an excellent trade school education as a mechanic. Fortressa enticed her out of a dead-end job at a lube joint to come lead the Pit Group maintaining Fortressa's power-armor. Socket is short and curvy with electric blue hair and gray eyes. She is a lesbian with a strong competence kink on mechanical matters, and she soon fell in love with Fortressa. Given that Fortressa has sworn off love, Socket remains silent about this, merely staying close at hand to do whatever Fortressa needs to make her happier.
Qualities: Master (+6) Gizmologist, Good (+2) Loyal
Poor (-2) Crush on Fortressa

* * *

Preteen/teen angst is a known cause of high-risk behavior in junior high, partly due to raging hormones as puberty begins.  This affects many aspects of student life.  There are tips for parents and guardians about guiding tweens safely.

Bullying poses a major problem in many schools.  Bullies often rely on cronies for supportBystanders can make a difference in what happens, depending on whether they ignore, approve, or disapprove the action.  Bullies tend to choose vulnerable victims.  There are things that adults and kids can do to stop bullying at school.

"Pulling pigtails" is a famous term for boys picking on girls, but it's more than that.  It's harrassment.  When adults act like this is acceptable behavior, it teaches boys to be harrassers and girls to be victims; that's no way to learn good intimacy skills, and it sets people up for abusive relationships.  For an example of how to address this in the classroom, see Judi Miller's description.  Know the signs of domestic abuse.  There are better ways to show affection and to improve relationships.

Social life is a major part of teen growth, with friendship and dating paramount.  Schools can help support student friendships.  There are tips on how to be yourself in high school and work on your social skills.

Homosexuality in high school poses extra challenges as young people discover their queer identity.  They often face harassment at school, especially if they don't know their rights.  There are tips on coming out as a queer teen, having a queer relationship, and dating for gay teens.

Boy Scout Law provides a set of ethical guidelines. You can see the honor medal and uniform online.

College life introduces new challenges and opportunities.

Unfortunately women face many barriers to taking a leadership role.  The glass ceiling describes the social effect that blocks women from advancing.

This problem is especially bad in the sciences, worst of all in the STEM fields.  Successful women are viewed negatively.  However, women in science can still enjoy dating.  Read some advice from women in male-dominated fields.

Hollaback is a social engineering tool for fighting sexual harassment of women on the streets.  Learn how to stop street harassment.

Unrequited love is a common experience.  Understand how to deal with it and how to be a good friend.

Social skills influence success or failure in all walks of life.  Many different factors can contribute to poor social skills including innate personality, poverty, neglect or abuse, etc.  No social skills is a trope that often appears in villains.  It also correlates with crime.  There's a loop here: people with poor social skills often wind up in crime for lack of better opportunities; crime attracts indifferent or violent people, and erodes the social skills of formerly healthy people.  Know how to improve your social skills and help young people develop theirs.

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4 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
silver_gull From: silver_gull Date: April 2nd, 2014 04:36 am (UTC) (Link)
I remember being told as a child that a boy (and his posse) teased me because he liked me. I never understood how knowing that was supposed to make a difference. Congratulations, you got my attention: as my enemy, who kept getting me in trouble because as an undiagnosed autism spectrum child with ADHD I could not fail to react to a sustained campaign of verbal and emotional abuse. And somehow I was supposed to LIKE them for it?

Plucky Girl seems to have had a positive response, though. Is this common? Is it something that people with romantic orientations other than 'nil' actually understand? You seem like the person to ask about insight into other mindsets. I had never thought of pigtail pulling as a strategy that might work for some kids, though as you mentioned, the resulting dynamic is unlikely to be healthy. But the whole idea of bullying leading to something other than scorn from the victim... In retrospect, this must be true for some people, as it's the logical precursor to hopping from one poisonous relationship to another. And most people probably grow out of it, as they mature and realise that some people really won't tolerate it, and that relationships without abuse are better - perhaps learning from the experience without taking or leaving noticeable scars. Still. The tendency of adults to dismiss or encourage such behaviour in kids is worrying, and the idea that it's actually effective is even more so.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: April 2nd, 2014 07:12 am (UTC) (Link)

Okay...

>> I remember being told as a child that a boy (and his posse) teased me because he liked me. <<

It's often said. It is not often true; usually what happens is a bully picking on a disliked victim.

>> I never understood how knowing that was supposed to make a difference. Congratulations, you got my attention: as my enemy, who kept getting me in trouble because as an undiagnosed autism spectrum child with ADHD I could not fail to react to a sustained campaign of verbal and emotional abuse. And somehow I was supposed to LIKE them for it? <<

Adults frequently fail to distinguish between affectionate teasing, roughhousing meant to be affectionate that is too rough, and abuse. This is a problem. It is especially a problem in that middle ground where someone is fond, but does not understand what to do with that emotion or how to express it appropriately, so does inappropriate things instead.

>> Plucky Girl seems to have had a positive response, though. <<

Well, sort of. It's not what I'd call healthy. At first, she puts up with it because she has been told it's affection. It isn't, at that stage. Later on, after more exposure and explanation from a saner adult, she pities him. The really awkward thing is that Bully Boy, who started out hating Plucky Girl, begins to know her better and feel some sense of connection or even indebtedness. This is a fucked up mess in his head. They are not likely to straighten it out on their own, but if older soups continue to give them better advice than their teachers and parents have been, the situation may improve.

>> Is this common? <<

No. Most people hate being teased.

>> Is it something that people with romantic orientations other than 'nil' actually understand? <<

Sometimes. The part that makes sense to me is this: Some people are very socially influenced, which means if you tell them social things, they are likely to behave as if that is true even if it's baloney. And some people crave attention to the point that they prefer even negative attention to being ignored. I suspect that's the how the teasing thing sometimes works as an expression of interest.

I still don't think it's a good idea.

>> You seem like the person to ask about insight into other mindsets. <<

Thanks.

>> I had never thought of pigtail pulling as a strategy that might work for some kids, though as you mentioned, the resulting dynamic is unlikely to be healthy. <<

It took me a long time to build up enough data to see that, because most of it points elsewhere.

>> But the whole idea of bullying leading to something other than scorn from the victim... <<

Stockholm Syndrome, for one thing. But another is simply that people who interact frequently will tend to become part of each other's lives. It's not healthy, but it's human nature to bond. People who are social teflon like me won't give a fuck, but most people are more responsive. Then too, sometimes the aggressor changes, and affection grows where none was before, and the tembre of the teasing changes, so the result may change. People aren't static.

It's still a crummy strategy.

>> In retrospect, this must be true for some people, as it's the logical precursor to hopping from one poisonous relationship to another. <<

That is exactly the kind of problem I meant to highlight with this poem: if you teach people that abuse is affection, it primes them for abusive relationships.

>> And most people probably grow out of it, as they mature and realise that some people really won't tolerate it, and that relationships without abuse are better - perhaps learning from the experience without taking or leaving noticeable scars. <<

Exactly. It's better to grow out of it.

>> Still. The tendency of adults to dismiss or encourage such behaviour in kids is worrying, and the idea that it's actually effective is even more so. <<

Sooth.
silver_gull From: silver_gull Date: April 2nd, 2014 12:00 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Okay...

>> It's often said. It is not often true; usually what happens is a bully picking on a disliked victim.<<

This time it did turn out to be true. He eventually asked me out, and then asked why I said no. One really has to wonder what he'd been told at the start of it, and all through the years we knew each other.

When I called Plucky Girl's response "positive," I only meant it in the sense of being the one it seemed Bully Boy wanted. In no way do I think it was a good one; more like testing positive for, as you said, the early stages of Stockholm Syndrome. Her motive for acting as if the adults were right makes sense, as does the way the relationship is set to change. I hope things wind up working out for them, whether together or separately.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: April 12th, 2014 09:10 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Okay...

>> This time it did turn out to be true. He eventually asked me out, and then asked why I said no. One really has to wonder what he'd been told at the start of it, and all through the years we knew each other. <<

0_o Yeah, that's creepy. Sometimes people get bad advice. Other times they just make shit up.

>> When I called Plucky Girl's response "positive," I only meant it in the sense of being the one it seemed Bully Boy wanted. <<

It is that. But it's personally complicated too, because of what she has been told, which leads to ...

>> In no way do I think it was a good one; more like testing positive for, as you said, the early stages of Stockholm Syndrome. <<

... this mess.

>> Her motive for acting as if the adults were right makes sense, as does the way the relationship is set to change. I hope things wind up working out for them, whether together or separately. <<

Feel free to ask for more about them in any relevant prompt call. Next up is the crowdfunding Creative Jam running April 19-20 with a theme of "characterization."
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